TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME!
By Frank “Digger” Dawson
Call it a lack of appreciation or just plain thoughtlessness!
It seems as though a great number of us admit to have experienced being dragged to some event or function which we ungratefully attended, only to later discover, this became the foundation of a life-long calling. For some, this may have been an afternoon of fishing with grandpa. Others may recall viewing a dead human body, a trip to the circus or a stage production. How bad was Citizen Kane? For this writer, that demagogical moment came on October 19, 1945 when I initially attended an East Liverpool Potter football game with my father. I didn’t want to be there!
Ironically, however, as it turned out, that Friday night will always serve as a metaphor of things to come in my allegiance to East Liverpool High School football in particular and sports in general. As an impressionable eleven-year old boy, sitting with my dad in that damp concrete edifice built by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression some ten years earlier,we watched downheartedly. It seemed that dreams of an undefeated season for the hometown team were about to be dashed as they trailed, Ashtabula, 6-0. But, suddenly, a young sophomore quarterback for the Potters, Don Wolfe, found future brigadier general Chuck Means on a 19-yard TD pass with time running out. Hope sprung eternal!
Unfortunately, in the words of The East Liverpool Review’s sports editor Bob Shaffer, “Mastodonic Rudy Trbovich missed the conversion.” A deadlock! Yep, and even though Trbovich went on to a stellar career at Purdue University, like kissing your sister, this one ended in a tie, 6-6. The game was played at Patterson Field, our local athletic complex, initially known as West End Park. The plot of ground has a long history in the City of East Liverpool dating back to days following the Civil War, however, in those times; interest was focused on baseball at the park, not football.
The entire facility is located on the Ohio River about 35 miles downstream from Pittsburgh, Pa. From the bleachers one can see not only the river, but also view the only privately-owned toll bridge on the Ohio River. The span, which presently costs 75 cents to cross, connects Ohio and West Virginia. It is owned by the Homer Laughlin China Company, manufacturers of world famous Fiesta Dinner Ware. The plot of ground housing the stadium, was originally owned by Monroe Patterson (1853-1924), a local industrialist who picked up an option on the land, then donated it to the local school system in December of 1923. The site became known as the “Monroe Patterson Athletic Field” and was officially dedicated November 15, 1924 when ELHS played Leetonia (Ohio).
A second dedication took place on November 10, 1928 when the football playing field was moved from an east – west direction to a northeast – southwest position. New fencing was added at that time, along with a large white monument, which actually houses a drainage system, used when the Ohio River backs up onto the playing surface and into the locker rooms. Unfortunately, this has happened numerous times.
On November 3, 1934, a third dedication took place at Patterson Field following construction of a 4,500-seat, $73,000 concrete bleacher. Built with both federal and local funds, the edifice is 110 yards long and houses all the field maintenance equipment underneath, along with, (until 2013) locker space for the East Liverpool “Potters.”
The team derives its nickname from the area’s ceramic industry, which was established in the community in 1838 by an English potter, James Bennett. It is believed that only one other American high school, located in Morton, Ill., uses the name (for the same reason, but on a smaller scale). However, the professional soccer team in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Bennett’s hometown, also goes by the “Potters.”
Notable players and coaches to have participated at Patterson Field include: Woody Hayes, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops (playing for Youngstown Cardinal Mooney H.S. in 1977), Martins Ferry’s Lou Groza of Cleveland Browns fame and Lou Holtz, who was graduated from East Liverpool High School in 1954 in the same era with a pair of future military leaders: Dan Cooper and Bob McCoy. For Dan Cooper (ELHS Class of 1952), it would be a 35-year career with the U.S. Navy which saw him rise to become the Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare. Following military retirement, he served as Under Secretary of the Veterans Administration for six years. Bob McCoy was graduated from ELHS in 1953 and appointed to the United States Military Academy where he captained the Cadet basketball team before launching an air force career that saw him rise to the position of Lt. General, retiring as Vice Commander of the Air Force Logistics Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Bernie Allen, considered, by many as the school’s finest athlete of all-time, originally appeared as a junior drum major at the stadium in 1947 before quarterbacking the 1956 football team, which scored the most points (407) in school history. Allen went on to quarterback Purdue University before playing ten years of major league baseball. For the seasons of 1924, ’25 and ‘26, future Ohio State athletics director Dick Larkins played for the Potters. Larkins, who headed up all Buckeye sports from 1947 to 1970, became best know for hiring Woody Hayes as the school’s football coach over Paul Brown, who coveted the job in 1948.
Another East Liverpool High School graduate who made his name at The Ohio State University, John Tatgenhorst, began his career as a musician at Patterson Field while still in grade school. He currently is a professional music composer/arranger and producer in Chicago where he is president of his own musical production company. He writes and arranges music for local and national radio and television commercials as well as with films. Over 500 arrangements and compositions of John's are published by twelve publishing companies, and his music is known worldwide. Since 1964, John has written hundreds of arrangements and compositions for the OSU Marching Band that include the "Go Bucks" and other cheers with the official rock song of the State of Ohio, "Hang on Sloopy," being one of the best-known.
At least one National Football League game was played at the stadium on August 21, 1942 when the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Cleveland Rams to benefit Civil Defense. According to former Columbiana County Sheriff: Robert “Brassie” Berresford, who attended the game and still has his program, the Steelers coached by Walt Kielsing, lost to Coach Earl “Dutch” Clark and his Rams 35-6.
The Homestead (Pa.) Grays, of the Negro Baseball League, a team that featured Josh Gibson, played on the field, as did the House of David, a semi-pro team representing a 20th Century religious commune in Benton Harbor, Michigan.
Baseball was discontinued when a new set of aluminum football bleachers was built on the baseball portion of the field in the mid-1960s.
No story of Patterson Field would be complete without mentioning
Eddie "The King" Feigner (March 25, 1925 – February 9, 2007) who was an American softball player of note. Feigner (pronounced FAY-ner) was born in Walla Walla, Washington, as Myrle Vernon King. He first assembled his four-man team, known as "The King and His Court," in 1946 and took on all comers, first in the Pacific Northwest and then around the country. Feigner retired from pitching after suffering a stroke in 2000 but continued to tour with his team, acting as emcee and telling stories while the team played.
“The King and His Court” touring team played over ten thousand softball games in a hundred countries and achieved widespread fame similar to that of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Feigner's miraculous records claim 9,743 victories, 141,517 strikeouts, 930 no-hitters and 238 perfect games. The Washington Post described him as "the greatest softball pitcher who ever lived."
"The King and His Court" was a four-man team: pitcher, catcher, first baseman, and shortstop. When asked why the team had four members, Feigner answered that they couldn't play with three: if all three got on base, there would be no one available to come to bat.